June 14: #15, The Iron Lady
“We will stand on principle or we will not stand at all.”
I wasn’t all that interested in watching The Iron Lady, but decided to anyway when I found it at my local library on DVD. (Remember, friends: visit your local library often!) I do not know much of British politics and knew even less about Margaret Thatcher before watching this film, but I’m a sucker for great acting performances, which means I’m also a sucker for Meryl Streep.
Let’s get it out of the way: Meryl Streep is great here, hitting all the highs, lows, and even effortlessly portraying Thatcher in her later years as she (apparently) experiences dementia. Now, whether the film should have shown those years is apparently part of a big debate, and even the framed narrative that it creates is very much hit and miss, with most of the hits coming on early in the film and the misses coming later as the gimmick wears thin.
Historical inaccuracies are a part of biopics, but when the subject is an important world leader from the modern era, I think a little more accuracy is required. Specifically, the idea of presenting Thatcher as the lone female member of Parliament is troubling, as it cheaply stacks the odds against her when no exaggeration was really needed. A seemingly slight choice like that can easily take a biopic into propaganda territory. Even after Thatcher becomes Prime Minister, there are no female faces in the House of Commons, although in reality, there were 27 when she was elected and 43 when she left office.
Some other choices also led to mixed results: the use of archival footage showing riots and other events interspersed with new footage of the actors filmed in high definition is jarring. The footage is visceral and jaw-dropping, but makes it hard to suspend your disbelief when we cut back to what are obviously just actors on a set.
The story itself is good enough, but stronger early on before politics completely take over. When that happens, the film is so careful to stay neutral that it doesn’t really say much at all. Thatcher was determined and controversial, but what else was she? Grade: B-
June 14: #16, Tower Heist
Did you guys know that Matthew Broderick is still alive? Me either!
I’ve had Tower Heist on my radar since it came out in theaters and I heard that Eddie Murphy makes an appearance as his old self in the film. As someone who was watching Eddie Murphy Raw and Coming to America dozens of times before puberty, I’m always willing to forgive all of Eddie’s PG-rated sins if he decides to go back to cussing and actually being funny again.
I’ll confess that I didn’t know much else about the film until I grabbed at my local library the other day (I mean it; patronize your local library!). I mean, I surmised that there was a Tower, and that at some point a Heist would go down, but other than that, I didn’t know anything.
It turns out that Tower Heist has a really clever plot where some average hotel workers who have had their savings accounts swindled by a white collar criminal decide to recoup their money the only way that they can: by stealing it from said criminal’s penthouse apartment. Not only is this a great setup, but you can’t deny the timing, since white collar criminals have been particularly unpopular over the past ten years or so.
I think I’ve usually enjoyed heist films because I also enjoy films with capable ensemble casts. Tower Heist certainly fits the bill, as everyone involved performs wonderfully, including Eddie Murphy in a role that is quite a bit less substantial than I thought it would be, but still very entertaining. In particular, Alan Alda of MASH fame is terrific; he’s alternately likable as a rich, yet relatable person and easy to dislike as a cocky, unapologetic criminal once he makes his turn.
Even Ben Stiller is surprisingly restrained in this, which is good, because if he went full-blown Stiller on us very often it would totally destroy the mood of the film. Stiller is the leader and a straight man for the most part here, and he sticks to his role dutifully.
Anyway, the movie is really good right up until the caper itself, when I feel like some liberties are taken that make it lose a little steam. That and a somewhat unsatisfying ending leave Tower Heist feeling a little flat, but it’s ultimately still a good heist film. It’s also unfortunate that much of the humor outside of Murphy’s scenes isn’t very effective, but I think the great premise and pacing make up for it. Grade: B